Comparing California and Michigan: The real pension truth squad weighs in

Argentine President Bill Clinton: Too bad politicians aren't like free agents in sports.

The relentless way Steve Maviglio and defenders of the Sacramento status quo have tried to minimize the extent of the state’s pension crisis has been breathtaking. The assertion that the average pension is under $30,000 is never accompanied by the context that the figure covers all former state workers getting a pension, including those who worked barely enough years to qualify for retirement pay.

On the L.A. Daily News opinion page, back in June, I whined about the Maviglian assault on reality and the way it was undercut by, well, reality:

Meanwhile, many local Democratic officials up and down California are unwilling to go along with attempts to pretend the pension crisis is a figment of everyone’s imagination. They have no choice.

They have to balance budgets and realize that what the Maviglios of the word depict as a battle between the beleaguered middle class and “out-of-state billionaires” is actually a math problem: Incoming revenue isn’t sufficient to cover both worker compensation and basic public services.

Consider San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a politician with impeccable liberal Democratic credentials. In an extraordinary interview published in the May 22 New York Times, Reed (no relation) warned that unless pension formulas are changed for city workers, San Jose is headed for a cataclysm. Pension costs will force the city to lay off nearly two-thirds of its 4,200 workers and to shift to “a volunteer fire department, a mostly volunteer police department, and not much else,” with almost all libraries and recreation centers shuttered. Driving Reed’s despair: the fact that all of his city’s politically powerful public employee unions except the police union pretend the pension crisis is “imaginary,” in his words.

At, my former O.C. Register colleague John Seiler offers up a powerful new assault on the Maviglio narrative.

A analysis of pensions in two large industrial states shows that those in Michigan are but a fraction of those in California.

According to the database of Michigan state retirees, just 49 pull down $100,000 or more per year.

By contrast, according to the database at Fix Pensions First, a whopping 12,199 Californians receive pensions of $100,000 or more per year.

Now, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Michigan was 9,883,640; while the population of California was 37,253,956. So, California had 3.8 times as many people.

Therefore, California’s $100K Pension Club should be 3.8 times as large as Michigan’s. Given that Michigan’s $100K Pension Club is 49, that would mean California’s should have 186 members.

Yet, California’s $100K Pension Club includes 12,199 members. Proportionally, that’s 66 times as many as Michigan has.

As John points out, Michigan’s state government, like California’s, is dominated by unions and union-beholden Democrats. But in Lansing, unlike Sacramento, a culture in which legal looting was tolerated apparently never took hold.

Can we trade Legislatures?

I’ve always thought The Onion was actually onto something when it joked about political leaders as free agents.

Can the Golden State lure Chris Christie? Go West, middle-aged man. Go West. Please.

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